Does Eating Sugar Cause Acne?

Warm Up

Forget about High Sugar Foods. What we are actually searching for is High Glycemic Index foods. What is Glycemic Index? Hold your seats, boys, as we are going to dig fast!


Glycemic Index or G.I. for short is an indicator (index) of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after the consumption of a specific food. GI takes values between 1 and 100, with 100 being the highest which is pure glucose.


Foods with  High GI are those that have a value of 70 and above, medium GI is those with values somewhere between 56–69 and everything with a GI of 55 or less are considered to be a low glycemic index food. Before we proceed in listing which food is what on the GI spectrum let’s see how glycemic index affects acne and overall skin and health condition.


Glycemic Index and Acne


Acne and a high Glycemic Index/High Glycemic Load diet go hand in hand. They are in love! In various studies on the topic, “magically” the group that changed its diet to a low GI diet had a significant decrease in acne. Together of course with multiple positive effects on overall health. In these groups insulin sensitivity and SHBG levels which were increased.



SHBG & Inflammation


SHBG or Sex hormone-binding globulin binds to sex hormones and thus affects hormonal balance in the body. Various studies have shown that increases in SHBG levels lead to decreased lesion counts.


Other studies suggest that high levels of blood glucose (caused by high GI diets) aggravate the inflammatory processes.


While inflammation, in general, is useful and helps us heal, systemic inflammation isn’t and it does many bad things to our bodies. When it comes to acne, inflammation is key. Sooner or later all pimples get inflamed. Eating a high GI diet isn’t exactly helping your acne cool down. The opposite is more likely.


HINT: Have you noticed a pimple or two the day after you eat some sweet? Inflammation is probably the reason. Try to combine anti-inflammatory foods or supplements after eating a sweet. 😉


By the way having your immune system (chronic inflammation) in a state of emergency all the time may also lead to lower energy levels throughout the day. Since your immune system consumes massive amounts of energy, this can make you crave sweets and other High GI products even more. Eating them just feeds the negative loop.


Not to mention the digestive imbalances you might get from a high GI diet, which further promotes inflammation and sometimes make cravings worse!


HINT: If you have red, painful and swollen acne, that is a sign of inflammation and replacing high glycemic index products with low glycemic index products is a must!!! You should start Yesterday!!!





Remember the love between acne and high GI diets? Well, these two guys make sure that they get married. Long story short:


High levels of IGFBP-3 prevent normal skin shedding and this way slowly creates blockages in your pores. These blockages then develop into pimples and acne. This can’t happen by eating a sweet, you must elevate insulin levels for a period of time for such things to happen.


IGF-1, Awee this little sweetie. This hormone conspires with IGFBP-3 in order to make your acne to look as bad as possible. It makes sure that your skin will produce more skin shells (keratinocytes) than it needs to. These shells when they manage to shed, apart from having bad timing they will also be larger in number. Blockage of your pores is certain!


HINT: The only solution to this is you abandon the high GI diet you eat, you go for another diet that keeps your insulin levels at a normal range.


Don’t expect Miracles Overnight


Don’t expect your acne to disappear overnight, nor to disappear completely, show patience, in a few weeks you will notice a huge difference, your redness will go away, there will be less pain if any and you will notice an overall decline. This is exactly what happened to me and this is what the research suggests. So you can give it a try, the worse thing that can happen to you has become a little healthier.


Other Diseases and Harms of High GI Foods.


This is a mini spoiler, in case you are not convinced that you have to give up you high GI diet here are a few common health problems that High GI diets are linked with and studies show that significantly increase the chances to cause:


  • Acne


  • Type 2 Diabetes


  • Coronary Heart Disease


  • Cancer


  • Age-related Macular Degeneration


  • Depression


  • The list goes on



  • ..


Which Foods are these?


And here we are to the ultimate question, which foods are these? Let’s have a quick look.


Low Glycemic Index Foods (55 or less):


  • beans (white, black, pink, kidney, lentil, soy, almond, peanut, walnut, chickpea);


  • small seeds (sunflower, flax, pumpkin, poppy, sesame);


  • most whole intact grains (durum/spelled/Kamut wheat, millet, oat, rye, rice, barley);


  • most vegetables, most sweet fruits (peaches, strawberries, mangos);


  • tagatose


  • fructose


Medium Glycemic Index Foods (55 to 69):


  • not intact whole wheat or enriched wheat,


  • pita bread


  • basmati rice


  • unpeeled boiled potato


  • grape juice


  • raisins


  • prunes


  • pumpernickel bread


  • cranberry juice


  • regular ice cream


  • sucrose


  • banana


High Glycemic Index Foods (70 or more):


  • white bread (only wheat endosperm)


  • most white rice (only rice endosperm)


  • corn flakes


  • extruded breakfast cereals


  • glucose


  • maltose


  • maltodextrins


  • potato


  • pretzels


  • parsnip


  • bagels


The source for the above list is Wikipedia. Here is a more detailed table.



Criticism and Alternatives of the G.I.



Last but not least we want to say a few things about the weaknesses of GI. First of all, it is just an index, it is not God and mistakes can be made. Apart from that GI can vary from person to person and even in the same person in the same day!!! GI doesn’t take into account insulin response (that’s why we have this).


Most GI values do not show the impact on glucose levels for more than two hours. Most importantly GI doesn’t take into account the quantity of the food you consume, for example, glucose is a high GI food while fructose isn’t.

But one spoon of table sugar (sucrose) VS 2 pounds of oranges, the second obviously will have a bigger impact on your blood glucose levels.


For these problems a second index was introduced, this is the Glycemic Load or GL for short, which derives from the glycemic index but also takes into account the carbohydrates you consume. Speaking about carbohydrates, the glycemic index is restricted in measuring the impact of carbohydrates, there is no GI of proteins or lipids.


Final Thoughts


Glycemic index is far from perfect, but even as is, it provides a great way to measure the impact some foods have on our glucose levels. Many studies and years of research indicate that High GI foods are destructive for our health and cause Acne. Many people that have made the shift from high GI to low GI diet themselves and have seen a tremendous difference in the quality of their lives.


What are you waiting for? go for it. Start replacing everything you eat with low GI products, when you are finished, all you have to do is wait for a few weeks and then the magic will happen. Your acne will fade away slowly, you will have more energy throughout the day and you will feel better, your mood will improve, your hormones will balance and you will be a healthier, happier person.


Just remember, you are not finished yet, sometimes acne is very persistent, so you are going to need a few more tweaks in your lifestyle to make it perish for good.


Hope you enjoyed it and hope you have lots of fun while changing your diet, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to mail us, or write in the comments bellow. 😉


Tip: If you believe you don’t have the willpower to resist all the sweets, find people that can help you stick with your diet, a doctor, your parents, your friends, anyone. Just be creative and you will find a way. Also, tricks such as vanishing all sweets from your house might work because you will be bored (or desperate) to go out shop them.


Tip 2: If you think about replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners, think again.